Pro AV Logo Originally published as a Consultant's Connection
column in Pro AV Magazine
  November 2003

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Consultants and integrators need rules of engagement to overcome a long history of discord.

By Tim Cape, CTS-D

Although it isn’t often spoken of in public, AV integrators and consultants have had a love/hate relationship since our industry’s early days. It’s not universal, but it’s a reality. There are some good and fairly simple reasons for this, and most of them have to do with how our industry has evolved in its short lifetime.

The early years of the pro AV industry were populated with mavericks, geekier-than-thou industry icons, homegrown, self-made technical wizards, and by-their-own-bootstraps business people. Although we all felt special because we knew we were on the cutting edge of something big, many weren’t willing to believe that anybody else in the industry knew their proprietary secrets. There were some damn good people doing some damn good work, but everyone — or almost everyone — had made their own way and were bound and determined to keep it that way.

When the booming ’90s rolled around and the AV industry started to grow — fast — there was a lot of mixing and matching, and many of us found that we were doing things in a pretty similar fashion. But there were three big problems that fueled bad feelings for everyone involved, clients included: There weren’t any rules, no recognized qualifications, and there was too much work. Anyone could be an AV service provider.

We were in the gold rush of the Wild West with no lawman in sight. While there were lots of do-gooders and jobs well done, there were also lots of opportunists and poor workmanship among consultants and integrators alike. As a result, many owners learned the hard way how to differentiate between the Good AV Guys and the Bad AV Guys. We knew both existed, but until recently no one except pro AV insiders knew how to tell the difference. This is one of the reasons consultants and integrators got off to a bad start. There didn’t seem to be a way to control who would end up working together when a consultant-designed project went out for bid.

In this free-range environment, there were — and still are — situations that spell trouble for the AV system owner and discord for the AV integrator and consultant. Without a way to qualify either the consultant or the integrator, the system owner (along with the facility architect, general contractor, and the rest of the design and construction team) is gambling on the outcome and may not even know it. With a little luck, a good consultant is paired with a good contractor on a good design and construction team creating a dream team and everyone lives happily ever after. But when a bad consultant is paired with a bad contractor under any circumstance, this outcome can be ugly.

    Good, Bad, Ugly Project Outcome Matrix

We know what ugly looks like, but the question is: What’s good and what’s bad? The basic issue is that not everyone in pro AV is highly trained, experienced, and ethical — just like in the rest of the business world. So how does anyone, particularly our clients, tell the difference between service providers in the world of pro AV? ICIA and NSCA have made great strides in this area. New initiatives by both organizations provide training, awareness, and certifications that will eventually be part of the answer. But the work isn’t done.

I’m not going to attempt to define good and bad service providers. These are just relative terms anyway; it’s really about qualifications, experience, process, ethics, and the appropriateness of a service provider for a particular project. A company that may be good for one project may be bad for another. For example, an integrator with 50 people and a light workload may be perfect for a complex $1 million integration project with a six-month install schedule, but hiring a five-person firm loaded with work to do the same job would be bad.

At the recent ICIA Fall Leadership Conference, a joint council meeting of ICAT (consultants) and SAVVI (integrators) resulted in plans to explore best practices among consultants and integrators, with the goal of reaching a shared understanding of roles and responsibilities among ourselves and even our clients. Other initiatives are making clients more aware of who we are, what we do, and how to tell us all apart.

Realistically, there’s bound to be conflict on consultant-led AV integration projects just as there are on architect-led building construction projects. But the likelihood of conflict could be reduced significantly by an industry agreement of the rules for working together, and knowledge outside the AV industry on how to select service providers. By educating ourselves and our clients, having constructive, frank dialog within the AV industry, and supporting credible, quantifiable industry certifications, we’ll be more likely to keep things from getting ugly.

For more information on programs pertaining to pro AV education, certification, and awareness, check out the websites for the ICIA, AVolution, and NSCA



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